One of the biggest disadvantages of getting older is that it becomes much easier to gain weight. When we’re young and spry, we can get away with having 3 glasses of wine or 4 slices of pizza with little consequence. But as age increases, our bodies aren’t so forgiving of naughty eating habits like this.
So why is it that we can eat the same things with drastically different results depending on where we are in life? We could be getting regular exercise and eating in moderation most of the time, but our dietary splurges still seem to increase the scale more than they did in our early 20s. Let’s learn why we gain weight when we get older and tips for managing and preventing this phenomenon.
What Causes Weight Gain as We Get Older?
There are many forces working against our ability to maintain a healthy weight in middle age. One of which is changing hormone levels for both men and women. Men and women experience a drop in the reproductive hormones testosterone and estrogen, respectively.
Here’s why each of these hormones is influential for maintaining a healthy weight and why the absence of them causes us to gain weight during middle age.
Lower Levels of Testosterone and Estrogen
Estrogen and testosterone encourage muscle mass growth and enhance fat storage use. That’s why when you gain weight in your younger years, you are better able to disguise it and bounce back from it. When these hormone levels drop, both men and women start developing more fat. This is especially true around their midsections. This redistribution of fat is one of the most recognizable markers of middle age weight gain.
Testosterone binds to fat and prevents it from gathering in unwanted places. It also helps keep metabolism high and restricts insulin sensitivity—thus preventing diabetes. Testosterone is at its highest in puberty and starts to decrease around 30. Men then become vulnerable to midsection weight gain and health problems like heart disease.
The effect that estrogen levels have on women is similar to testosterone in that it peaks at puberty and starts to decline with age. Estrogen plays an important role in maintaining cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It also contributes to blood circulation, collagen production, and brain function. Estrogen is heavily linked to females’ menstruation cycles and fertility. When estrogen levels drop, women are less able to get pregnant or ovulate.
When estrogen levels decrease during menopause, women often develop extra fat around their midsection. Though it may appear to be weight gain, this redistribution of fat is not always added pounds. It is, however, a common and often unwelcome side effect of getting older.
Muscle Mass Loss
Losing muscle mass is an inevitable part of getting older and can be a large contributor to why we gain weight when we age. This process is called sarcopenia and starts around the age of 30. Sarcopenia causes you to lose 3-8% of your muscle mass every 10 years. Once you turn 60, the rate of decline increases even more.
With muscle mass loss comes side effects like increased fat mass. This in turn causes changes in body composition. It can also make you more vulnerable to insulin resistance, decreased bone density, and joint stiffness. Muscle mass loss may increase your risk for serious health conditions. These include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Slowed Down Metabolism
Muscle mass is the largest determiner of how fast your metabolism rate is. Metabolism processes when your body converts food into energy. Blood circulation, digestion, and waste elimination are all parts of the metabolic process.
Similar to estrogen and testosterone production, metabolisms are fastest during youth. But the older you get, the less energy (or calories) your metabolism needs to run itself. Over our life span, we tend to develop eating habits that don’t change as our bodies do. So when our food intake doesn’t decrease, the excess energy we supply our metabolisms with can result in weight gain.
How To Prevent Weight Gain as You Age
While gaining weight becomes easier, losing weight proves more challenging with age. That’s why we have to develop new lifestyles and dieting habits to counteract this. Here are some tips on how to prevent weight gain as you age.
Get Active the Fun Way
Exercise is an essential part of maintaining a healthy weight. But many people find it to be a chore once they get older and preoccupied with other tasks. That’s why it’s important to find an exercise that you actually like doing.
Did you used to play a sport in your youth but your busy life, job, and family life put a wrench in this pastime? If this activity still has a positive place in your memories, why not start up again?
Find an adult league in your community or search for a local group online. This will help you find people who are also motivated to stay active. And it will allow you to relive the happy times you had while tricking yourself to exercise!
Challenge Your Eating Habits
Gaining weight often comes from an unwillingness to change the way we ate as a younger person. Similarly to having an emotional connection with the sports you used to play, you can have an emotional attachment to the foods you used to eat.
Do you have a latte every morning because that’s what you’ve always done? Or do you have a scoop of ice cream every night because it reminds you of college? Oftentimes we find ourselves stuck in old habits because they bring us comfort. But ditching this habit doesn’t mean we have to ditch the happiness these snacks brought us.
If you practice food journaling, take note of the foods that you often find yourself indulging in. If you consume certain high-fat or sugary foods daily, cut your intake down to weekly or bi-monthly. That way you still get that rush of instant gratification and positive memories every once in a while. Just without the added weight gain that they’ve been causing you in recent years.
Get a Better Nights Sleep
Life gets hectic, we get busy, and our sleep schedule suffers. But even if 8 hours of sleep seems unrealistic, prioritizing weight loss means that you have to make time for it. Lack of sleep could be contributing to your weight gain.
Skipping hours of sleep can give you a bigger appetite, which of course causes you to eat more. This is likely provoked by how sleep deprivation affects your hormones. When out of sorts, your hormones are less able to signal hunger and fullness the way they should.
Additionally, less sleep can cause you to seek foods that are higher in calories and fat. So make it your mission to go to bed earlier or wake up at a later time. This way you’ll be less tempted to overindulge or reach for junk food.
Change Your Habits to Decrease Your Weight
There are many unfair things about getting older. One of which is becoming more vulnerable to weight gain. Changing hormone levels, muscle mass loss, and slowing metabolisms can be a catalyst, but they certainly don’t have to get in the way of attaining optimal health.
The harsh reality of growing older is that you can no longer live or eat the way you used to. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever treat yourself to a cupcake or that you have to exercise all the time. You just have to find a way to enjoy doing more physical activity, get more sleep and scale back on the foods that you may be indulging in too often. If you follow these tips, you can better fight off the factors that are causing you to gain weight as you age.